People of the Year: Thom Yorke of Radiohead

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Is Kid A really about cloning humans?
That was entirely my fault [laughs]. Early on, Stanley Donwood, who does our artwork, and I started doing this thing, Test Specimen, a cartoon about giving birth to a monster, the Frankenstein thing. For example, the bear logo – that is the test specimen, the first mutant. The idea was loosely based on stuff we were reading about genetically modified food. We got obsessed with the idea of mutation entering the DNA of the human species. One episode was about these teddy bears that mutate and start eating children.

It was this running joke, which wasn't really funny. But in our usual way, it addressed a lot of our paranoias and anxieties. "Kid A" was just a name flying around – it was a name of one of the sequencers.

You recorded enough material during the Kid A sessions for two albums. How would you describe the music that is not on Kid A?
It goes off in two ways. One is like very broken machinery. The other is really fat and dark. I played one of the songs to Björk – he said, name-dropping – and she said it sounded like I'd just seen something really frightening, then gone and written about it. It's sort of bearing witness to things.

We've all listened to these other songs, getting an idea of what we have. It could be an EPs thing; maybe it will be a better record than the one we've just done. It's impossible for us to judge. In the same way, I can't judge what Kid A is like. I can't listen to it – I don't want to listen to it. When you're in the mastering suite and you hear it for the first time, with all the gaps between songs, that's it. After that, I went home with the CD and showed it to [Yorke's girlfriend] Rachel, and said, "This is Kid A, and I don't want to hear it anymore." I want to do the same thing with the next one. It's fantastic when you finish something that's hanging around your neck.

If you guys are so comfortable with Napster and bootlegs, why did you go to such lengths to keep Kid A under wraps before release? There were no advance copies, and reviewers had to listen to it in very controlled circumstances.
In retrospect, I think that was really stupid. We finished the record three or four months before we could play it for anybody. We had to go on tour, so we locked it away. It would have been wrong if it ended up on the Net months beforehand.

It seemed like the only way to do things. But I was quite upset that it happened that way, because it didn't feel right.

The ironic thing was that journalists could not get a copy for review, but anyone could download live versions of the new songs from Napster.
I thought that was brilliant. When the [European summer] tour started, the first show was on the Net the day after. If the major labels had their shit together about the Internet . . . They've been sticking their heads in the sand over the new technology ever since they discovered they could resell everyone their old LPs on CD. They reaped some pretty bad karma doing that, and now they're paying the consequences. Unfortunately, what that means is they're picking on things like Napster, which is just a bunch of people bootlegging among themselves.

You wrote "How to Disappear Completely" about the way you felt after playing a huge outdoor show in Dublin. Is there anything about being in a successful rock band – about being known and loved – that you do like?
Yeah! I like a lot of it. I like talking to people about music, about our music. If it didn't make me happy, I wouldn't do it anymore. I just don't want to suffer many fools very often. I don't have the fucking time.

That song is about the whole period of time that Ok Computer was happening. We did the Glastonbury Festival and this thing in Ireland. Something snapped in me. I just said, "That's it. I can't take it anymore." And more than a year later, we were still on the road. I hadn't had time to address things. The lyrics came from something Michael Stipe said to me. I rang him and said, "I cannot cope with this." And he said, "Pull the shutters down and keep saying, 'I'm not here, this is not happening.'"

What was the best thing that happened to you this year, besides going to Number One?
Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. I have a house by the sea, and I spent three weeks there this summer. I just went swimming every day. It was the best feeling in the whole wide world, being turned around by the ocean.

What was the oddest thing you bought this year?
I bought a book about standing stones in southern England.

Like the ones at Stonehenge?
Yeah. There's a lot of these stones around my way. I got quite heavy into it. I've also been reading this book about Egyptian pyramids and temples and their relation to the stars – which is very unlike me, to read about that sort of thing. But I've been getting heavily into ancient cultures.

What is the think you would most like to see change in the coming year?
I think the music corporations should stop fucking with the way people listen to music, stop trying to fit everything into a fucking box, and start taking some fucking risks.

That's a lot of "fucking."
Yeah. You can edit those out if you like. I get into trouble with my mum.

This story is from the December 14th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.

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